As we move deeper into Lent, our focus turns more and more to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Even though the Gospel for this Second Sunday of Lent recounts the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28b-36), many of us forget that, in just another few verses, Jesus predicts, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men” (9:44).
Jesus headed resolutely to the cross, where he knew he would take all our sufferings upon himself. Every crucifix serves to remind us of this truth, but there is one in Mexico City that does this in a startling way.
“La Milagrosa Imagen de Nuestro Senor del Veneno” or “The Miraculous Image of Our Lord of Venom (or Poison) is a crucifix in the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. This is the cathedral that once housed the sacred image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that miraculously appeared on the cloak of St. Juan Diego in 1531. Because the cathedral was built on unstable ground, it is prone to flooding. So Juan Diego’s tilma (cloak) was moved in 1629. Since 1974, it has been housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in that same city.
The Lord of Poison cross has hung in Metropolitan Cathedral since at least 1935. It is an example of the Cristo Negro (Black Christ) crosses that are known throughout Mexico and Central America. The Lord of Poison cross stands near the cathedral’s Altar of Forgiveness. The body of Christ on the cross has bent legs and is black in color.
The legend is that the body on the cross — the corpus — was originally white or ivory-toned. It is said that its color changed because of hatred. There are two similar stories regarding this crucifix, but the outcome is the same in both.
In one story, a priest was in the daily habit of going to the crucifix, which then hung in the Dominican church named Porta Coeli, near the present cathedral. In 1602, Porta Coeli (or Heaven’s Gate) was used by seminarians. The priest would arrive before Mass each day and kiss the feet of Christ on the cross.
An enemy of the church, noticing this habit, decided to kill the priest. The would-be assassin applied a poison to the feet of Christ. The next day, when the priest arrived, he knelt down to kiss Christ’s feet. However, the legs of the figure pulled up and out of reach and the corpus turned black, believed to have absorbed the poison.
The second story names two rich men: Don (a title meaning “Sir” or “Lord”) Fermin Andueza and Don Ismael Treviño. Don Fermin was devout and attended the Porta Coeli church daily, after breakfast, to venerate the crucifix. He would also leave a gold coin at the feet of Christ, to help the poor.
Don Ismael, another successful businessman, was very jealous of Don Fermin — they seem to have been business rivals. Don Ismael’s jealousy grew so strong that he decided to kill Don Fermin. He bought an expensive poison that was said to be tasteless and virtually undetectable. It was also slow-acting. Don Ismael somehow managed to get the poison into Don Fermin’s breakfast and then hurried to the church to see the outcome.
Don Fermin unwittingly ate the poison and headed to the church as usual. He knelt to kiss Christ’s feet and the statue immediately turned black, drawing the poison from Don Fermin’s lips. Astonished, Don Ismael repented on the spot and confessed. Don Fermin immediately forgave him, but Don Ismael fled and was not seen again.
With either story, the body of Christ on the cross turned black. It has remained black, its legs bent and twisted out of reach since.
Today, people come to venerate the Lord of Poison cross, believing it has healing powers.
As we reflect on either story of Nuestro Senor del Veneno, we can perhaps remember what St. John Paul II said about Christ’s suffering: “Suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation. By his suffering on the cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil, of sin and death. … For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his spirit of truth, his consoling spirit” (Salvifici Doloris).
The story of the poisoned cross graphically reminds us of these truths about Christ’s suffering for us. During this Lent, as we look upon any crucifix, we can realize how Christ is present to our sufferings and has taken all of them to himself upon the cross.
Sources: vatican.va; moelzamora.wordpress.com; visionsofjesuschrist.com; freerepublic.com; clydesplace.wordpress.com; reconditosite.wordpress.com; and inside-mexico.com